The Afghanistan Papers

by Craig Whitlock

Kirkus A veteran Washington Post investigative reporter delivers a dispiriting history of the 20-year Afghanistan debacle. The war in Vietnam was always controversial. The longer quagmire of Afghanistan, writes Whitlock, “was grounded in near-unanimous public support” when it began in 2003. There was no need, then, for the Pentagon brass to lie about the war, but lie they did, despite that fact that there was not a clearly articulated mission. The mission crept into a vaguely defined exercise in nation-building even as more than 775,000 U.S. troops cycled in and out of the country. Whitlock’s impressively documented book contains interviews with more than 1,000 participants in the war. The author also examines a report titled “Lessons Learned,” which, though inches thick, seems to have emerged only long after the damage was done (and $1 trillion disappeared into the ether). One curious diagnostic among many uncovered in this comprehensive overview: Early on, American troops had to fly their laundry to Uzbekistan, since there were no facilities in Afghanistan, whereas the base at Bagram soon sported “a shopping mall, a Harley-Davidson dealer and about 30,000 troops, civilians and contractors.” Bush administration officials could never wrap their heads around the fact that the Taliban and al-Qaida were distinct entities and were convinced that anyone willing to fight against them was a friend of the U.S. Those presumed allies milked a gullible U.S. dry. One interviewee notes that the U.S. misadventure could have ended in weeks if direct negotiations with the Taliban had been undertaken. Instead, enemies were misidentified and innocent people killed so frequently that one officer reported that some units were “focused in consequence management, paying Afghans for damages and condolence payments.” That Joe Biden was able to order America’s withdrawal redefined the terms of victory to say that the U.S. “had achieved its original objective long ago by destroying al-Qaeda’s stronghold in Afghanistan”—rather than acknowledge that the Afghans had defeated their second superpower. By this authoritative account, the Afghanistan War has been a colossal failure that should have been ended years ago. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Kirkus A veteran Washington Post investigative reporter delivers a dispiriting history of the 20-year Afghanistan debacle.The war in Vietnam was always controversial. The longer quagmire of Afghanistan, writes Whitlock, was grounded in near-unanimous public support when it began in 2003. There was no need, then, for the Pentagon brass to lie about the war, but lie they did, despite that fact that there was not a clearly articulated mission. The mission crept into a vaguely defined exercise in nation-building even as more than 775,000 U.S. troops cycled in and out of the country. Whitlocks impressively documented book contains interviews with more than 1,000 participants in the war. The author also examines a report titled Lessons Learned, which, though inches thick, seems to have emerged only long after the damage was done (and $1 trillion disappeared into the ether). One curious diagnostic among many uncovered in this comprehensive overview: Early on, American troops had to fly their laundry to Uzbekistan, since there were no facilities in Afghanistan, whereas the base at Bagram soon sported a shopping mall, a Harley-Davidson dealer and about 30,000 troops, civilians and contractors. Bush administration officials could never wrap their heads around the fact that the Taliban and al-Qaida were distinct entities and were convinced that anyone willing to fight against them was a friend of the U.S. Those presumed allies milked a gullible U.S. dry. One interviewee notes that the U.S. misadventure could have ended in weeks if direct negotiations with the Taliban had been undertaken. Instead, enemies were misidentified and innocent people killed so frequently that one officer reported that some units were focused in consequence management, paying Afghans for damages and condolence payments. That Joe Biden was able to order Americas withdrawal redefined the terms of victory to say that the U.S. had achieved its original objective long ago by destroying al-Qaedas stronghold in Afghanistanrather than acknowledge that the Afghans had defeated their second superpower.By this authoritative account, the Afghanistan War has been a colossal failure that should have been ended years ago. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Publishers Weekly U.S. government and military officials took part in an “unspoken conspiracy to mask the truth” about the war in Afghanistan, according to this searing chronicle. Expanding on a series of articles published in the Washington Post, Whitlock explains how he learned, in 2016, about a government program to interview hundreds of participants in the war for a report on policy failures in Afghanistan called “Lessons Learned.” Drawing on these transcripts and other oral history projects, Whitlock paints a devastating portrait of how public messaging about the conflict consistently belied the reality on the ground. He details internal rivalries in the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department, and the fatigue and pessimism of soldiers on the front lines. (“We were just going around killing people,” says one special forces officer.) A costly program to eradicate opium poppy fields in Helmand province backfired spectacularly, turning the region into a “lethal stronghold for the insurgency” and earning harsh criticism from veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke and others. Whitlock also delves into the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden, the Obama administration’s skewing of statistics to support its war strategy, evidence of Afghan government corruption, and the Trump administration’s complex peace plan with the Taliban. Rigorously detailed and relentlessly pessimistic, this is a heartbreaking look at how America’s leaders “chose to bury their mistakes and let the war drift.” (Sept.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

214 Main Street Hanlontown, IA 50444  |  Phone: 641-896-2888
Powered by: YouSeeMore © The Library Corporation (TLC)